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Building Amid Destruction: The Mission in Lebanon

The Pontifical Mission staff in Beirut seeks creative solutions to human suffering in a situation others call hopeless.

by Issam Bishara
photos: CNEWA files


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Before working with the Pontifical Mission, I had the impression that providing aid simply meant giving away cash money. After my experience with this agency, I realized that my role is to support needy individuals in creative ways so that they can start over in their lives. I also understood that aid projects need the beneficiaries to share responsibilities.

One example of the Pontifical Mission’s work is the Zaaytrieh project. Zaaytrieh is a terribly poor area in the suburbs of Beirut. Displaced Christian families live there. When they came here, they occupied small houses that were built long ago to lodge the workers of a big factory in the area. The houses had neither water nor electricity. They also lacked sanitary facilities, and health care became a major problem.

The Pontifical Mission’s project was to help rehabilitate the houses by installing sanitary facilities, water, and electricity.

When I went to Zaaytrieh to evaluate the needs of the displaced families in the area, I visited several homes, met different people, and heard many sad stories. One family had been displaced from the Chouf region in southern Lebanon in 1982. Druze militiamen attacked the area; those who could not escape were slaughtered. The family came by boat to east Beirut. They had no money, no clothes, no shelter. Finally, they settled in Zaaytrieh village and occupied a room in an old building once used as an orphanage.

They tried to adapt to their new situation in life. The husband continued his service in the Lebanese army, and the children were enrolled at the Carmelite sisters’ school near their building.

But the last six years have meant more problems. The husband was injured in his back while serving with the army. He stayed in the hospital for two months, and though he survived, his health is declining day by day. Now he is partially paralyzed and cannot work. His wife must be with him because he needs continuous care. Their only income is an army pension which only amounts to US$50 each month.

The husband’s condition led to a special problem in the building. The family lived in a room without a bathroom. They shared the only one in the building with seven other families. Because the husband’s condition forces him to stay in the bathroom for a long time, their neighbors were becoming more upset with them.

The Pontifical Mission offered them practical aid. We were able to help the family construct a private bathroom on the small terrace of their room.

A hospital in Zahle needed major repairs; the Pontifical Mission collaborated with Save the Children Federation and the Lebanese Ministry of Health to repair, refurbish, and reopen it. The remote village of Elat was without power for two years since the electrical transformer was destroyed; the Pontifical Mission worked with village leaders to replace it and restore power. The housing in Mankoubine village had been severely damaged four years ago; the Pontifical Mission and Save the Children contributed to their restoration. When the reservoir for three Lebanese villages needed repairs and a new water pump, the Pontifical Mission again collaborated with Save the Children Federation to meet these needs.

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Tags: Lebanon Health Care Poor/Poverty Relief